tao te ching translation by stephen mitchell

anonymous asked:

Do you have any good books to recommend?

There are a lot of good books out there. I recommend:

The Power of Now or Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle

Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti

Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh or almost all of his books

The spiritual enlightenment trilogy by Jed McKenna

The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Stephen Mitchell translation

The Spiritual Awakening Guide by Mary Mueller Shutan

Those are ones I’ve enjoyed, I hope you enjoy them too.

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.
—  Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching. Translation by Stephen Mitchell
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
 
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
  
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable. 
 
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
— 

Lao Tzu - (Tao Te Ching, chapter 11, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I asked you to ponder the question, “What if nothing is impossible to you?” Today, I have another question about nothing. “What if there is a whole lot more nothing than there is everything?” That isn’t much of a question, really. We have been discovering the truth of this for some time, now. When you look out in space, what do you see? A whole lot of empty space, right? Oh, there are planets out there. And stars, lots of stars. And moons. And asteroids, meteors, comets, and among all the other things, don’t forget the black holes, too. But, when I look out into the night sky, I find myself appreciating how much emptiness there is out there. How much nothing. And, when we look at something under a microscope, we find that whether we are examining cells, or molecules, or atoms, or even the infinitesimally small parts of an atom, the amount of empty space to be found just boggles our minds. The whole Universe is filled with emptiness, with nothing. Today’s chapter is an ode to nothing.

Back in chapter two, Lao Tzu introduced being and non-being. And, as I recall, I devoted no amount of time trying to explain these concepts. I was too busy talking about yin and yang. I hinted that yin is non-being, and yang is being. I said being and non-being create each other. But, I didn’t try to explain that being is what is, and non-being is what is not. I knew we were going to get to today’s chapter after so many days, and it could wait. Lao Tzu certainly didn’t mention non-being and being, directly, since chapter two. I could wait, if he could. Instead, he has spent several chapters talking about non-being, indirectly. By referring, time and time again, to the infinite possibilities available in emptiness. Somehow, we needed to gain a greater appreciation for non-being, without knowing we were talking about non-being. Non-being, emptiness, nothing, has infinite value, because what is not, as we have been seeing over the course of several chapters, now, is everything.

Wait just a doggone minute! How can nothing be everything? It all has to do with understanding the infinite usefulness in nothing.

If I were to point out a wagon wheel to you, you would probably notice how the spokes are joined together to make the wheel. If I showed you a pot I had shaped out of clay, you may or may not appreciate how well I formed it. I never was very good at sculpting things out of clay. When we look at a house, we admire the handiwork of its construction. All these things we are looking at, and appraising, are the being we work with.

But none of that being would be possible without non-being. Without the center hole for the axle to be inserted into, the wagon won’t move. Without the emptiness inside the pot, it wouldn’t be able to hold anything, let alone whatever we want. Without the inner space inside the house, it wouldn’t be livable. Non-being, that emptiness, that nothing, is what we use. The more non-being there is, and we are discovering more and more of it all the time, the more there is to use.

That should be enough about nothing, for today; but, we will have more to say about nothing in future chapters. Tomorrow, we will talk about how to trust your inner vision.

So since I graduated I have read 81 books. That’s nuts. And the genre variety is insane. Here are my favorites:

  • “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman (I read a lot of him this year because I finally had time and had been meaning to for years ((ex. I have owned this book since 2013)) so he will be Sir Appearing A Lot On This List)
  • “Tao Te Ching” Stephen Mitchell translation
  • ”Star Crossed” by Barbara Dee
  • ”God Is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens
  • ”Scythe” by Neal Shusterman
  • ”Amphigorey” by Edward Gorey
  • ”The Ocean At The End Of The Lane” by Neil Gaiman
  • ”Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • ”Between The World And Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • ”Hamilton: The Revolution” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • ”In The Next Room” by Sarah Ruhl
  • ”In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
  • ”Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman
  • ”Astrophysics For People In A Hurry” by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • ”The Hate U Give” by Annie Thomas
  • ”M. Butterfly” by David Henry Hwang
  • ”City Of Thieves” by David Benioff
  • ”The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls
  • ”If Not, Winter: Fragments Of Sappho” Anne Carson translation

    Very Honorable Mentions:
  • “The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman
  • “One Thousand White Women” by Jim Fergus
  • “The Sun Is Also A Star” by Nicola Yoon
  • ”I Am Princess X” by Cherie Priest
  • “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson
  • “Annie On My Mind” by Nancy Garden
  • “Interview With The Vampire” by Anne Rice
  • “Miranda And Caliban” by Jacqueline Carey
  • “Ready Player One” by Ernest Kline

Aside from “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood, I probably won’t finish any more list worthy books before the summer is over so hereth endth the list.

When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
—  From Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell
The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.
—  Tao Te Ching, translation by Stephen Mitchell

anonymous asked:

do you have any favorite books to recommend? any subject or genre

Some that I’ve enjoyed are:

The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Stephen Mitchell translation.

The Dhammapada the sayings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) the Thomas Byrom rendition.

Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

These are ones I’ve enjoyed over the years. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

~greg

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
 
What does it mean that success
is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.
 
What does it mean that hope
is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?
 
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self,
then you can care for all things.
— 

Lao Tzu - (Tao Te Ching, chapter 13, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu talked about observing the world but trusting your inner vision. What he was doing is identifying two very different realities. One, the finite and temporal one, with which we are all quite familiar. We perceive it with our senses. I would call that reality an illusion. It is a dependent and subjective reality my mind projects, a hologram. But, what makes it even more interesting to me is what I “think” of my self is also part of that hologram. The other reality, Lao Tzu keeps talking about, is an independent objective reality. It is both infinite and eternal. It isn’t an illusion. It is the Way things are. I harmonize my self with that reality by trusting my inner vision, the spontaneous and intuitive real me, in the core of my being. In a sense, these two “realities” compete with each other. Yet the Tao competes without competing.

How the reality, with which we are all quite familiar, competes is by enticing each of us to compete with each other, to see our selves, as separate from others. Seeing ourselves as separate is part of that hologram we project. When we see the self as self, as separate, we create for ourselves a competing reality with the infinite and eternal one.

One feature, readily apparent, of this competing reality is the “so-called” ladder of success (and failure). Because we see our selves as separate, we compete by defining success by how far up the ladder of success we can climb. But, being a finite and temporal reality, we find ourselves competing for finite resources, finite time, finite everything. There is only so much room at the top. It is me against the world.

It should go without saying that being a part of the reality we are projecting, that ladder is also an illusion. Real ladders are dangerous enough; but, ones we create out of thin air are even more so. Whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky. Measuring success and failure the way we do, when we see our selves as separate, is a very dangerous reality. We pin our hopes and fears on that ladder. But what are our hopes and fears? They, too, are mere phantoms, both equally hollow. The reason they arise is we  keep thinking of the self as self, as separate from the world. We live out our lives, always hoping for success and fearing failure. What we are really doing is postponing contentment and fulfillment until some imagined future where our desires will be realized. We live our lives, not in the present, but dogged by the past, and striving for the future.

The infinite and eternal reality is always present. One of the reasons that the reality we are projecting is an illusion is it isn’t a present reality. It is all about the past and the future. There is only what has happened before, and what we hope will happen.

Lao Tzu wants us to stand with both our feet on the ground of reality. Standing in the present, the always present, is the only way to always keep our balance.

When you realize the rungs of that ladder are no place to be standing, and you start to live in the always present, you see just how dangerous both success and failure are. The phantoms of hope and fear no longer pester you, for they have no place in the always present.

You transcend the finite and temporal reality by seeing your self in a whole new way. No longer do you project your self as self. Now, you trust your inner vision, where you see the world as self. Your inner vision shows you the always present reality. You are not isolated, alone, separate from the world. You are connected, and one, with all things. You aren’t separate from this reality. You are one with this reality. This is the Way things are. Have faith in the Way things are. You and the world are one. Love the world as your self. Now, you can care for all things as you care for your self.

That was enough to chew on for today. Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will offer us a riddle. Don’t worry. He doesn’t leave us guessing at the answer to the riddle. What we cannot know, we can be.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
 
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
 
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
— 

Lao Tzu - (Tao Te Ching, chapter 2, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu introduced us to what he calls the Tao, the infinite and eternal reality, the Nature of things, the Way things are. He also introduced the one problem we all have with realizing the mystery of the Tao - our desire. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu will begin to delve into the problem of our desire. And, as he introduces the Master, for the first time, he begins to show us all, through the example of this wise and virtuous person, how to deal with the problem of our desire.

So, first, it is best to explain what Lao Tzu means by desire. By desire, Lao Tzu means how we see things. There is an infinite and eternal reality, which for us is shrouded in darkness. What we see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, everything we perceive with our senses, show us the way things seem to be. But, that is only a finite and temporal reality. Some theoretical physicists have suggested that everything we perceive with our senses is a hologram. I would call it, straight up, an illusion. How we see things, or perceive them, traps us in this finite and temporal reality, an illusion. Lao Tzu suggests we can be free from this illusion, finally beholding the infinite and eternal reality, by tracing back the manifestations of the infinite and eternal reality, to their source. The manifestations are something we can see; though our minds, having become accustomed to seeing things a certain way, will try to explain them away, as only part of the “reality” we see all around us. The infinite and eternal reality is very different. And, we will begin to see that, as we trace back those manifestations. So, let’s begin.

Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter by talking about how we perceive a duality in our universe. Many philosophers call it the problem of duality. Lao Tzu, though, will remind us, the problem isn’t duality, the problem is our desire. When people see some things as beautiful, or good, other things become ugly, or bad. In the infinite and eternal reality, there is no such division. There is no beautiful, no ugly, no good, and no bad. These are human constructs. We speak them into existence in our “reality”. They are our perceptions of the way things are. But, they are only the way things seem to be.

What there is in the infinite and eternal reality, and here is where we are introduced to our first manifestations of the Tao, is yin and yang.

Yin and yang are not opposites. That is a common misconception; but, it is a misconception. Yin and yang are complements of each other. Yin and yang is how the Tao brings balance, harmony, and order in our Universe. Where there is yin, there must be yang, and where there is yang, there must be yin. They complete each other. They balance each other out.

To further explain the operation of yin and yang in our Universe, consider the familiar Tai-Chi symbol. It is a circle, representing everything that is, our Universe. Within it, you find the black yin and the white yang, swirling around in constant motion. The relationship between yin and yang is not a static one. It is dynamic. When you look at yin and yang in that circle, you will see that each contains a seed of the other within itself.

Yin and yang, non-being and being, create each other. Like difficult and easy, they support each other. Like long and short, they define each other. Like high and low, they depend on each other. Like before and after, they follow each other. That is why you can’t have beautiful without ugly; or, good without bad. But, that is the problem of desire, how we see things.

Yin and yang are manifestations of the Tao we can see. We see them in female and male, dark and light, negative and positive, passive and active, closed and open, back and front. If we see these as opposites, if we prefer one over the other, we are upsetting the balance, and going against the current of the Tao.

The Master, a wise and virtuous person, shows us the way to overcome and free ourselves from the problem of desire. We will talk further about the Master throughout the Tao Te Ching. I did want to explain, when I refer to the Master as a wise and virtuous person, what I mean by wise and virtuous. Wisdom, for our purposes, doesn’t refer to an abundance of knowledge. And, virtuous does not mean good, like we think of good. Wisdom means trusting your inner vision. And, virtue is being in harmony with the Tao.

Wise and virtuous persons overcome, and free themselves from, the problem of desire, by acting without doing anything, and teaching without saying anything. Things arise, and they let them come. Things disappear, and they let them go. They have, without possessing. They act, without expectations. They do their work; and, when it is done, they forget about it. Because of this, what they do lasts forever.

These are attributes, of the wise and virtuous person, which we are only introducing today. We will go into them in more depth as we go on through the Tao Te Ching. The thing to understand about them, today, is this is how to free yourself from the finite and temporal reality, and enter the realm of the infinite and eternal.

Tomorrow, we will talk more about the problem of desire, and how a wise and virtuous person shows us the Way out of the self-imposed trap in which we find ourselves.

Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.
 
The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.
— 

Lao Tzu - (Tao Te Ching, chapter 12, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday’s chapter was a whole lot of nothing. Today, Lao Tzu counters that with the dangers of excess. If we want to avoid the dangers of excess, we need to learn how to trust our inner vision. It always keeps things in balance.

He begins by talking about the finite and temporal reality we perceive with our senses. Colors dazzle our eyes. But, you can have too much of a good thing. Those same colors can blind us to the infinite and eternal reality. Sounds, too, in excess will deafen our ears. You can even over-do flavors, and numb your sense of taste.

We talked, a couple of chapters ago, about the importance of reining our minds, so prone to wandering, in. Lao Tzu asked, “Can you coax your mind from its wandering and keep to the original oneness?” Too many thoughts, weaken the mind. We need to realize when it is time to coax it back from its wandering.

Desires, the problem we have been talking about all along, wither our hearts. “I want, I want, I want.” We postpone contentment, when it could be ours today.

This is what it is like being a captive in a finite and temporal reality. It is a limited and limiting reality. Only what we can perceive with our senses, and nothing more. Try to take these to some extreme, and you only prove just how finite and temporal this reality is.

How do we escape this prison? How do we tap into the infinite and eternal reality, which Lao Tzu insists is right there, always present, inside each of us? Wise and virtuous persons observe the finite and temporal world around themselves. But they don’t limit themselves to that reality. They trust their inner vision.

Lao Tzu talked about our inner vision a couple of chapters ago, as well. He asked, “Can you cleanse your inner vision until you see nothing but the light?” Now, I am going to be so bold as to suggest that Lao Tzu wasn’t setting us up for failure. He didn’t ask if I could coax my mind back from its wandering, or cleanse my inner vision until I see nothing but the light, knowing I most certainly cannot. We have the infinite and eternal reality always present inside of us. It is hidden in the core of our being. And, we can access it, and use it, in anyway we want.

So, how do we do that? How do we tap into it? Because this sounds really hard. But Lao Tzu will still insist it is easy. Only we, make it hard.

So, here is the key. Are you ready?

Let it happen. Don’t try to make it happen. Let it happen. Allow things to come and go. Don’t resist them when they come. Don’t reach for them before they arrive. And, don’t try to cling to them when they leave. Open your heart. What does that mean? Desires have been withering it. But like the petals of a flower, we need to let it open up again. How? By letting go of desires. Open up your heart, until it is as open as the sky.

How open is the sky? I got a message from one of my followers, after my commentary on yesterday’s chapter. He apparently does a lot of flying in airplanes, and talked to me about the emptiness he sees when he looks out a plane’s window. The sky is so empty that it can be filled with thousands of planes, in-flight, every day. That is a whole lot of emptiness which can be filled. Open your heart like that. You will be amazed how much your heart can be filled, with still room to spare.

By not resisting, and welcoming all things, you access the infinite and eternal inside of you. You can trust your inner vision. It will show you the Way, intuitively and spontaneously.  

Tomorrow, we will see that our ideas of what constitutes success and failure are equally dangerous. And, we will discover that hope and fear are equally hollow. We will be challenged to look at self in a whole new way. And when we do, we will experience the infinite and eternal reality within ourselves.

anonymous asked:

My life has no meaning. I dropped university, I isolated myself because seeing my friends and people becoming successful was painful. I live in a very negative household and I feel I'm lost and I don't belong anywhere. What could I do?

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.

- Dalai Lama

Your friends being successful, doesn’t mean that you won’t be. They may just be successful in a different way than you. Maybe they want to be doctors or lawyers and go that route in life. Their are many ways to success in life. Their way doesn’t have to be your way. You have your own unique talents and ideas. Maybe you want to start a business and help others, maybe you are good at art, music, or something completely new that I don’t even know about and you want to pursue one of those. Maybe you want to be different than your parents, your friends and all the people around you. Find what works for you in life. We are all not meant to be doctors, lawyers or congressmen, if we were the world would be overrun with them. You are you. Be you. Breathe and just be. Pursue what you want to do. Maybe you’ll go back to school later, that’s fine, a lot of things that you can do take an education. Do what you can do today, even if that is just to get out of the house and walk around. Small steps lead to big changes. Do what you can do today and be gentle on yourself.

Try to see that happiness, peace and fulfillment don’t come from a job or a career, being successful is great, but what happens when you lose your job, you lose your career? You are miserable. You are a wreck. The truth is true happiness and peace, bliss, comes from inside you and is just there when you dig it up. When you look inside yourself and see what is underneath all your thoughts about life you feelings of pain. This does take time. This does take practice, but this is where these things live. They reside in you. Most look outside for these things, they look for happiness in money, fame, a partner, or success. This is why there are many unhappy people who outwardly would be called a success, but drink their life away and fear the ending of what they have built so they cling to it at all costs like a life raft in the middle of shark infested waters. Money, fame, a great partner are amazing to have, but to look at these things as something that will bring you deep peace and happiness is just not fair. They can bring short term happiness and surface bliss, yes, but your happiness is then tied to them and can go with them. You are at their will. The bliss and peace that you just find inside yourself, is there regardless of what your bank account says or what you title is. It is just there. Just there inside you. This is what advertising people don’t want us to realize, if you can be completely happy without their product, who will buy it?

Question your beliefs about life. Take sometime each day and just feel. Do trim fro what you feel. Just be with what you find. Do t run from it. Doing this those feelings any get a bit more intense, because you are facing them and not running from them, but keep your attention there and feel what is there. After a little while, the feelings will shift, they change to a feeling of peace and stillness comes through. Try this and see, don’t take my word for it. Breathe, feel and just be for a bit and see.

Go outside and feel the sun. This same sun shines on you, me and everyone, everyone that is a “success” and all the “failures”. It just shines. It is a way in which we are all connected. This same sun has shined down on all the great leaders, all the great people of the past. The sun doesn’t care how successful you are or who you are going to be. It shines its warming rays down on us all. Breathe, feel the sun, feel the wind and know that right now you are alive and that, yes, there are negative people in your life, but they don’t have to control you.

Try to sense the space of the negativity and all the thoughts that can swirl. See that those are just thoughts, just opinions they may have. Try to just simply let them be them, as hard as that is. Just give them space to be. Take note of your reaction to them and let that be as well. They are just how they are. Give them space to be. If you can physically leave them, do it. This makes life easier, but if you cannot, try to just get a sense of the space they take up and the stillness underneath all of the negativity. Try to just breathe and just get a sense of this space and stillness that is underneath all the negativity and the negative words.

I would recommend the book, The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Stephen Mitchell translation. If you get a chance.

I hope this helps.

~ greg

anonymous asked:

Hey there! Just was wondering if there's any books you would recommend us to read.

Any book By Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace is a great book

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle Stillness Speaks is good as well

Who Am I? By Ramana Maharshi

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity is good too

Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Stephen Mitchell translation.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.

Be Here Now by Ram Dass.

The Places that Scare you by Pema Chodron

Are some I’ve found that are good. Books are great, they can only take you so far though.

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
 
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
— 

Lao Tzu - (Tao Te Ching, chapter 9, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Before I begin my commentary for today, let’s compare Stephen Mitchell’s translation, above, to Robert Brookes’:

“A cup too full will soon be spilled,

a sword too sharp will soon be dulled,

too much of anything cannot be kept.

Wealth and power soon turn to arrogance,

and misfortune follows.

Instead, draw back when your work is done.

This is the Tao.”

We have been learning the value of emptiness. Today, Lao Tzu teaches the problem with fullness. It is telling that you have never heard someone say to you, “That is too empty.” It may not be full enough; but, too empty? No one talks like that. It just isn’t part of our lexicon. But, too full? Yes, we have experienced that over and over again in our lives. You can’t have excess emptiness. But, you most certainly can have excess fullness. This may change, forever, how you think of the whole “glass half empty or half full” debate. Remember what Lao Tzu has taught us before: Wherever there is excess, the result is always deficiency. Whether you are filling a bowl or a cup, overfill it, and that excess is going to spill over. What a waste! That knife, or sword, can be too sharp. It will lose its edge. Place too much value on money and security, wealth or power, and misfortune always follows. Why do you think heart disease is the number one killer? Too much of anything can’t be kept. Deficiency always follows excess.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu gave us a few aphorisms to show us the Way to practice true contentment. Today, he offers us a few more, to show us how we practice discontent. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said, Enjoy your work! Today, he shows us why it is that we might not. If you want the only path to serenity, avoid excess in everything you do. Do your work, yes. But, know when to stop. Do your work, then step back from it.

Tomorrow, we will return to talking about the supreme virtue. Being the supreme virtue, you might think, maybe this is something hard to do. But, the only reason it is hard to put into practice is because we make it hard to put it into practice. Lao Tzu will show us just how “easy” it is.

The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn’t take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.
The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it,
the more it produces;
the more you talk of it,
the less you understand.
Hold on to the center.
—  Tao Te Ching
( Translation: Stephen Mitchell )
When you realise where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
—  Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

anonymous asked:

what are some books you recommend?

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti

The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Stephen Mitchell translation

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

And basically anything that resonates and speaks to you.

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.
 
They were careful as someone
crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapeable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.
 
Do you have the patience
to wait till your mud settles
and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
 
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.
— 

Lao Tzu - (Tao Te Ching, chapter 15, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

After finding out, over the last couple of chapters, that fulfillment, contentment, isn’t something to be found on that illusory ladder of success and failure, that our hopes and fears are mere phantoms which arise because we are thinking of the self as self, that we need to be grounded in the reality of the always present, and see the world as self, it is time for one last example of the practice of being always present. Yesterday, Lao Tzu called it realizing where you come from.

He said it is the essence of wisdom to realize where you come from. And, today, he looks back at the ancient Masters, the wise and virtuous people of their day, to explain how being always present works.

He would like to talk about how profound and subtle their wisdom was. But, it was unfathomable, there is no way to describe it. Yet, just by looking at their appearance, you can see it.

Their appearance shows they were always present. Careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream. Alert as a warrior in enemy territory. Courteous as a guest. Fluid as melting ice. Shapeable as a block of wood. Receptive as a valley. Clear as a glass of water.

With the little girl I teach, we have been learning how sentences can be in past tense, present tense, or future tense. We have been changing the tenses of verbs to show the change in tense. But these ancient Masters were always in the present tense. Because they were always present, they were ready for anything, and could welcome all things.

They are a great example. But it is up to us to realize where we come from, to practice being always present, for ourselves.

What is it going to take? Lao Tzu asks the two questions which answer that question for us. Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?

Now, wait just a doggone minute, I thought this was about being in the present. What is this about waiting and remaining unmoving?

I am so glad you asked. We have this idea of the present moment, which isn’t at all what Lao Tzu means by the practice of being always present. We think the present is but a fleeting moment. I am typing this right now in the present moment. But, now that that sentence is finished, it is in the past. In a few more words, I will go on to a future moment, where I will be typing a new paragraph.

That isn’t what Lao Tzu means by being always present. The always present is, well, always present. There will be waiting, and remaining unmoving, in the always present. If you are worried that your opportunity is going to pass you by while you are waiting, and remaining unmoving, you aren’t living in the always present. You are still stuck in the finite and temporal reality.

The always present contains within itself, infinity and eternity. All that is really required of you is patience. To wait, to remain unmoving. Let’s look back at the appearance of those ancient Masters, again. Have you ever crossed an iced-over stream? I haven’t. But, I imagine you would need to be extremely careful. However, I have crossed streams, before. That was the metaphor I had in my mind as I read about waiting till my mud settles. When I take a step in the water, it stirs up mud. Now, if I am patient, that mud will settle back down. The water will clear again. That certainly helps me to be able to see where it is safe to take the next step. You need to be alert. Waiting and remaining unmoving isn’t just a passive thing. You aren’t just standing there, doing nothing. You are alert. Ready to move, when the way is clear, when the right action to take arises all by itself. It means you need to be fluid, and shapeable. You have to be receptive, and clear, yourself.

So much wisdom! So profound and subtle! These Masters didn’t seek fulfillment. Which is exactly what Lao Tzu has been telling us has been our problem for so very long. We keep seeking, expecting. But wise and virtuous persons realize where to come from. They don’t seek. They don’t expect. They are present. Always present. And, so, they are ready to welcome all things.

Tomorrow’s chapter will be a meditation practice I, myself, use to practice being always present. It is where I come from.

The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.
 
The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.
— 

Lao Tzu - (Tao Te Ching, chapter 7, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Perhaps, a lot of my readers are just like I was, in their understanding of words like eternal and infinite. For many years, I believed I knew exactly what these words meant. To envision eternity, all I did was imagine a very long time line, infinitely long. I could look at any point on that time line and know that, if I were able to look infinitely into the past, or infinitely into the future, from that point on the time line, I would never come to an end. That was what eternal meant to me. I have to credit C.S. Lewis for actually helping me to see that I had it all wrong. I was certain I was understanding eternity, but I had confined it to a time line. C.S. Lewis explained eternity to me by starting with that time line, yes; but then, he pointed at the space apart from that time line, and said, that is what eternal means. It is timeless. It isn’t part of the time line, and has nothing to do with the time line. All a time line does is give you points in time. Points in the past and points in the future. Our lives began somewhere on that time line. And, they will end somewhere on that time line. C.S. Lewis would go on to say that “God” isn’t on the time line. God can see all of the past, and all the future, at once, spread out as if it is always now.

Enter Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu says the Tao is eternal. Why is it eternal? Because it was never born; thus it can never die. Yes, I understand this, now. The Tao isn’t on that time line, either. It was never born, so you can’t point to the time line and say, “There, is its beginning.” And, since it has no beginning point on the time line, it can’t have an end point, either. The Tao is always present. That is how Lao Tzu explains it.

And the Tao is infinite, too. We have been talking about the infinite Tao for a few days now. It is its emptiness that makes it infinite. It makes it infinitely capable. Its possibilities are infinite. It gives birth to infinite worlds. But, does that really explain what infinity means? Well, the emptiness does hint at it. But, Lao Tzu explains it in a way, in today’s chapter, which was all new to me.

It has no desires for itself. Ah. Now, that emptiness is taking on even more meaning to me. Having no desire. Being empty. Having no desire for itself, it can be present for all beings. Infinity and eternity are forever intertwined with each other. The Tao is always present. It is always present for all beings.

Okay, that should be enough about the infinite and eternal for today. What am I supposed to do with this? This is when I ask myself what wise and virtuous persons do to harmonize with this infinite and eternal reality. Am I forever stuck on this finite and temporal time line; or, is there some way to tap into the infinite and eternal?

Understanding the Way things are, wise and virtuous persons find themselves ahead, because they stay behind. They are one with all things by being detached from them. They are perfectly fulfilled, because they have let go of themselves.

What exactly has happened here? It is what we learned about the Tao, yesterday. A wise and virtuous person begins with yin, not yang. Yang is all about getting ahead. But, yin is content with staying behind. Yang wants to be one with all things, while yin remains detached from them. However, by leading with yin, yang naturally follows. If we had led with yang, we would have had much different results. You will never be perfectly fulfilled by seeking to be perfectly fulfilled. Contentment isn’t about the things we don’t yet have, that we want so very much. Contentment is about being content, right now, in the present, the always present. If you want to be perfectly fulfilled, let go of all your desire, be empty, let go of all of yourself; you begin to realize fulfillment, contentment, isn’t something to attain, it is something to be, right here, right now. It isn’t something postponed. Because, that is what desire does for us. It postpones contentment, fulfillment, until later, once you have the object of your desire. But, when you are empty, it is always present.

Tomorrow, we will talk more about what wisdom and virtue mean. How do we harmonize with the Way things are?